Framing the Dialogue

To Unionize Or Not

I have had varied experience with unionized labor.  My father belonged to the Communication Workers Union and was an adamant supporter his whole life.  As I got older I wondered how he came to almost despise the company that he worked for and paid his salary.  I have never been in a union, but I have been around them throughout my career.  An interesting issue has been raised about the fastest growing segment of unionized labor…government workers.

Should government workers be closed shops (i.e. required to belong to a union).  Where I worked (state government), union contract covered employees were not required to join the union, but were still required to pay their “fair share” to cover the costs of union negotiated contracts.  The fair share was so high that most joined just so they could have a say in the union operations.  An interesting phenomena has been taking place as the state has severe budget shortcomings, but because of the union contract, they are still getting exceptional wages.  In order to cut costs, the agencies are unable to freeze salaries so they cut staff.  Hence my recent job change. 

The debate about whether government workers should be covered by unions has been a long one.  Firefighters, police officers, waste collectors, ambulance drivers, road crews, etc. all have the ability to cripple a city when they go on strike.  How many times have you read headlines about a transit worker strike or at least the threat of one in New York City?  Do these unelected union employees have too much power over the people?  The very people who pay their salaries.

Ronald Reagan faced this situation early in his presidency when the air traffic controllers threatened to walk out.  In 1981 they actually walked off the job shutting down the airline industry.  He gave them 48 hours to return to work and when they did not Reagan fired 11,000 of them.  Not only did he fire them, but those employees were banned from ever working in that field for the rest of their lives.  The union was also decertified.  Reagan kicked butt.

Any of you who have children probably face this dilema every two to three years when your teachers start negotiating their contracts.  These strikes often pit the teachers (employees) against the parents (employers) and the victims are the children.  I happen to live in an area where the residents are protective of our schools and we have never had a strike in the 23 years that I have lived here.  It should be noted that our school district is consistently ranked as one of the top districts in our state.

This is not the case in Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School which has been consistent in its achievements, unfortunately they have been consistently poor.  Only 7% of their eleventh graders are proficient in math (that means that 93 of every one hundred students know math – that’s in case one of their students is reading this).  The do much better in English where a whopping 33% were proficient in writing and 55% percent in reading.  Only 52 percent of students graduate within four years.

In an attempt to improve the schools the administration proposed to lengthen the school days, require additional training for teachers and offer more tutoring.  The teachers did not like it so much.  In a bold move the district’s board approved the firing of the teachers after the school year.  No more than half of the teachers would be eligible to be rehired.  Hopefully the administrators will hire back only the most competent teachers. 

Towards the end of the original article (link in blue above) there was a note that the reporter saw four boys leaving the school from a side door.  When questioned one of the students said that they were participating in a walk out in support of their teachers and that “Honestly, it’s not a good idea. [extra hours, etc.]  The school wants them to work more hours for no extra pay.”  Is any more proof needed to show the poor education of these students.  When I was in high school that behavior was called cutting classes and it would get you detention and severe punishment at home.

That’s the essence of government employment for many workers.  There is no connection between ability, work ethic, results, or success and reward.  Government employment only rewards longevity.  For many the knowledge that you cannot be fired has a deleterious effect on work ethic.  I have witnessed it!

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